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Yogurt and You!

A dietitian’s guide to diabetes-friendlier yogurts

Yogurt! With so many types and flavors to choose from, this popular food takes up more and more space in the supermarket, and is even getting its own stores. Plain, fruit-flavored, non-fat, low-fat, full-fat, drinkable, Greek yogurt, yogurt with fiber, even non-dairy yogurt, frozen yogurt, and more. So how do you choose which might best fit into your meal plan? Here are some things to consider:

What is yogurt?

What makes yogurt “yogurt” are the live, active bacterial cultures that ferment the milk. In the fermentation process, some of the milk sugar is converted to lactic acid, creating a tart flavor and a thicker consistency. Some yogurts are heat-treated, so the beneficial microbes are killed. To find yogurt with live, active cultures, look on the label for the names of the cultures used or for the “Live and Active Cultures” seal from the National Yogurt Association that many manufacturers voluntarily put on their products. (You can find out more about reading food labels here.)

Yogurt is nutritious – usually, but not always!

Generally, yogurt provides protein, calcium, potassium, and other important nutrients. However, if you count on dairy foods for vitamin D, check food labels carefully. Milk is fortified with vitamin D, but yogurt (like cheese) often is not. Along with the protein, vitamins, and minerals, many yogurts pack a lot of added sugar. And I mean a lot! With flavors like Key Lime Pie, Banana Cream Pie, and Cherry Chocolate Cheesecake, it shouldn’t be a surprise that some yogurt is more like dessert than a cup of wholesome fermented milk. But even fruity yogurts like plain raspberry or peach can be loaded down with added sugars. A six-ounce container contains about fourteen grams of sugar – that’s a whole tablespoon of sugar right out of the sugar bowl.

Choosing yogurts without added sugars will save you additional calories too. I’ve had many clients confused by the fact that both unsweetened plain and artificially sweetened yogurts still have sugar in them. In these cases, the sugar listed on the Nutrition Facts panel (often about twelve grams per six ounces) is the natural lactose that’s present in milk. The American Diabetes Association recommends fat-free or low-fat yogurt to trim both the calories and unhealthful saturated fats found in full-fat dairy products. Organic yogurt is made from organic milk. Otherwise, there is no difference.

Federal guidelines recommend three servings of dairy foods per day. An eight-ounce cup of yogurt counts as one serving. Be aware, however, that most yogurt cups are not eight ounces, but between four and six ounces instead.

Traditional vs. Greek yogurt

There seem to be two main yogurt camps these days: Some people are die-hard fans of traditional yogurt. Others prefer the creamier, thicker texture of Greek yogurt. Bringing home either in the low-fat or non-fat varieties is a good choice. Greek yogurt is strained of much of its liquid whey and lactose. The straining gives it a nutritional edge with more protein and less carbohydrate than traditional yogurt. (Unfortunately, there is usually less calcium, too.) I like to make my own Greek-style yogurt; it’s a great way to save money. Here’s how:

  • Spoon traditional yogurt into fine mesh strainer lined with a cheesecloth or coffee filter.
  • With the strainer sitting over a bowl, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate over night.
  • In the morning, discard the liquid in the bottom of the bowl and transfer the yogurt to an airtight container.

Non-dairy and drinkable yogurts

If you’re allergic to cow’s milk or choose not to consume dairy products, you still have several choices. Your supermarket or a nearby specialty shop may have yogurt made of milk from soy, coconut, rice or almonds. Soy milk yogurt is usually most similar in nutritional content to cow’s milk yogurt. Others tend to be very low in protein, and coconut milk is high in saturated fats. Read labels carefully though, because brands vary. Drinkable yogurts are thinned with water and often have additional sugars and calories.

Frozen yogurt

When choosing a frozen yogurt dessert, first remember that it is dessert, and not always much different from eating ice cream. Keep your portion small, limit the candy toppings and choose a low-fat or non-fat option. Not all frozen yogurt has live active cultures. (You can read more about frozen treats here.)

The CDE’s bottom line

Yogurt can be wholesome, or it can be a sugar bomb. I recommend adding fruit to plain non-fat yogurt. Try diced apples with cinnamon or any fresh or frozen berry. If you’re looking for a lower-carb option, top plain or light yogurt with walnuts, almonds, or any favorite nut. You can even mix in a tablespoon or two of peanut butter.

Jill Weisenberger, MS, RD, CDE*, is the author of Diabetes Weight Loss Week by Week, contributing editor for Environmental Nutrition, and has written for many publications including EatingWell, Diabetic Living, Her Sports + Fitness, and LifeScript. Weisenberger is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.

© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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